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Archive for July, 2011

A year ago we started to talking in detail about 21st century learning and personalized learning (the 3 C’s and the 7 C’s and sometimes the 8 C’s) and, in the process, the focus in our district has been on delving deeper in order to fully understand and embrace the concept of inquiry. While most jurisdictions around the world largely agree with the skills and attributes espoused by those questioning the current educational system, the challenge has been to formulate what this new model tangibly looks like for students in schools. For us, this “inquiry” is helping us define what “it” really is.

For a couple of our schools this rubric created by the Galileo Educational Network is proving to be a very helpful starting point.

Inquiry is another term that can have very different meanings to different people. The Galileo Educational Network sees it as:

. . .  a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

In West Vancouver, this process of inquiry is taking several forms. In some places it is well-defined and in others it is more organic. In listening to principals and vice-principals discuss areas of focus for their schools for next year, almost all of the schools have some focus on inquiry.

At Eagle Harbour, the approach is linked to Montessori, while at Cypress Park and West Bay it is connected to the Primary Years Program International Baccalaureate Program (IB). At Rockridge Secondary, they also link their inquiry work to IB, using the Middle Years Program as their foundation. Caulfeild Elementary is launching its IDEC (Inquiry based Digitally Enhanced Community) as a foundation for its school structure. While not as tightly defined, similar thoughtful work is taking place in other schools — many being guided by Understanding by Design (UbD) assessment work. UbD, particularly in the elementary schools, has had a dramatic impact on lesson and unit construction, instruction and assessment. As I have often said, it is some of the most difficult, least glamorous professional learning we can undertake, but it can really improve our practice.

A common theme with inquiry is one that is also true with the conversations around personalized learning — it really redefines the role of the student and teacher and what each of them does in the course of their day. Combined with emerging technologies, this approach to themes and topics is changing what engagement can look like in our schools.

For all who lament the slow speed of change in education, it is fascinating to see how quickly our district is coalescing around inquiry as part of what we do in West Vancouver.

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Twitter, or more specifically those who I connect with using it, has influenced my thinking and work in a number of ways. Although, from time to time, I do hear “Twitter is a waste of time,” my experience has been that if it is a waste of time you are following the wrong people.  While it is not the greatest tool for a discussion, or the best place to share deep, thoughtful commentary, it is a wonderful place to connect.

Here are the three ways it has influenced me as I look ahead to the next couple months:

My kids won’t be joining the library book club this summer

Every summer, we go to the local public library to get our sticker book and then make the weekly visits collecting stickers and exchanging books.  If there is one topic I have been most influenced on this year, it is likely the use of rewards and motivation.  From the powerful examples of Daniel Pink in Drive, to the sharing of Alfie Kohn’s work, to the thoughtful discussions around the use of awards in school from local educators like Chris Wejr,  I am much more conscious now of using external motivators.  I want my kids to love reading, and not because of a sticker.  I am not as firm in my belief as some of those on Twitter around external motivators, like stickers or candy, I am much more conscious of it now than I was a year ago.

I am not going to any major conference this summer

Once students leave for their break, it is often an ideal time for adult learning.  In past years, that has included attending a major conference — whether it be an event hosted by ASCD or the Building Learning Communities.  These major conferences are a wonderful way to be invigorated, connect to wonderful educators, and meet informally with many people who may only be previously known through their blog.  It is just not the only way to do it anymore.  There are many other choices and options.  Twitter allows me to drop in to a number of conferences across North America by following along with the conference hashtags.  Many of the major presenters are also streamed live for those who are not in attendance.  There is absolutely something about “being there” but it is not the only way.  For less money and travel I can sample a number of different events, and learn from a range of thoughtful leaders.

We are going to try un-conferencing with our administrators

I have been fascinated by the growth of the “un-conference” as shared on Twitter. So many people I follow describe their experiences as the best professional learning of their lives.  Whether it is the informal learning that is associated with TEDx events, the Edcamp events that seem to be all the rage in British Columbia, or a range of other participant-driven events, there are more people moving away from structuring professional learning around a series of “sit and get” Powerpoint presentations.  It is common to hear educators talk about Birds of a Feather events, lightning talks and world cafes.

We hold an annual summer conference with our school administrators and will try to model the un-conference format.  Our August event has often been heavy on information and outside speakers.  We will try to use some less structured formats that take aspects of the Edcamp model, and also experiment with Pecha Kucha (another term I hadn’t heard before Twitter).

I will probably blog a little less frequently over the next two months, but I will be learning and growing on Twitter.

All the best for a wonderful summer break and thanks for your ongoing support and engagement in this space.

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